It’s been almost 30 years since I had my first article published in IRON MAN. Yet after all that time the essence of what I teach hasn’t changed, and every bodybuilder I help only reinforces the central lessons. Two examples are Ian and Paul, struggling young bodybuilders who recently consulted with me. I’ll condense some of what we covered to illustrate what I mean.
Protein. While as a youngster I never got into the quantity of protein supplements that Ian and Paul were using, I did get into the same protein obsession. I took in large quantities of protein through milk—a gallon a day, at times—and a lot of protein-rich solid food. Protein is essential for bodybuilding progress, of course, and you require an ample amount, but excess won’t hasten growth. A gram of protein per pound of lean bodyweight is probably more than what you require, even when you’re training hard, but to allow for some margin of error, apply that guideline.
Many people suffer digestive-tract upset from protein supplements but digest natural protein-rich foods much better. Whole foods are also more satisfying and enjoyable.
Fat fear. Ian and Paul had a near fear of dietary fat. As a result they were deficient in healthful fats and overdosing on protein in part to compensate for getting so few calories from fats. Not only are some fats not bad, but they’re essential for good health as well. A lowfat diet hinders muscle building. Some fats are harmful—refined vegetable oils, trans fats and hydrogenated oils in margarine and shortenings—and should be avoided.
About 25 percent of your total calories should come from healthful fats. If you eat only healthful foods and a broad variety of them, your fat intake should work itself out naturally.
While the weight-loss industry has made almost everyone believe that dietary fat makes people gain weight, the extra calories, no matter what the source, are the true culprit. People who eat a lot of fat-laden foods tend to gain excess bodyfat because fat is much more calorie dense than protein or carbohydrates.
Getting most of your fat intake from fish that’s high in essential fatty acids—along with the fat from avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds, flaxseed oil and butter in moderation, and eggs that are boiled or poached at low temperature—is vastly different from getting the same total quantity of fat from fried food, margarine, shortenings, refined vegetable oils, omelets and scrambled eggs. Over the long term, the different effects on your health from the two diets may be dramatic.
Micronutrients. Focusing on the macronutrients—typically, protein in excess, fear of dietary fats and excessive prudence with carbs—causes some bodybuilders to neglect the varied diet that properly supplies all nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Ian’s and Paul’s diets were almost devoid of fruits and vegetables and low in healthful fats. Both complained that their stomachs felt full or heavy most of the time, and their energy levels in the gym weren’t high.
Although Ian and Paul don’t eat junk food or fast food, many bodybuilders do. Avoid that processed rubbish and eat healthfully instead. By improving your health, you’ll also improve your energy and your ability to recuperate from training. That combination can only help your bodybuilding.
Training. Even perfect nutrition won’t build a better physique unless your training is in decent order. Ian and Paul were lacking on the training front. It’s no wonder that they weren’t making any progress. Never mind that neither is a genetic standout. Even genetically typical bodybuilders can build good physiques if they train well and recuperate adequately.
They were making classic training errors—too much training at each workout, too many workouts and too much attention paid to the small exercises and neglect of the biggest exercises. For example, Paul was doing four exercises for his triceps and five for his pecs; and Ian was doing leg extensions but no squats or leg presses.
When I asked them some basic questions on the technique of the squat, deadlift, bench press, chinup and overhead press, their knowledge was poor, even though they’d both been training for a few years. Many bodybuilders think that just because they’ve trained for a while they know all they need to know about an exercise or technique. Yet I know plenty of people who have trained for more than 20 years and still can’t squat or deadlift correctly.
Sleep. When I was young and fanatical about bodybuilding, there were periods when I did sleep a lot—10 hours or so a night. Because I pulverized myself in the gym, and thus overtrained severely, though, I still didn’t progress.
Most bodybuilders don’t sleep generously, and that greatly undermines their progress. Get to sleep an hour or two earlier every night than what’s normal for you. After a few days you’re likely to feel more alert and energetic in general, be able to train harder on a consistent basis and recuperate better.
Train well, eat well, and sleep well.
Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new 638-page opus on bodybuilding Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, available from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008, or www.Home-Gym.com.